Expertise in Fingerprint Identification

Authors

  • Matthew B. Thompson B.Inf.Tech., B.Sc. (Hons),

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia
    2. Queensland Research Laboratory, National Information and Communications Technology Australia, St Lucia, QLD, Australia
    • Additional information and reprint requests:

      Matthew B. Thompson, B.Inf.Tech., B.Sc.

      School of Psychology

      The University of Queensland

      St Lucia QLD 4072

      Australia

      E-mail: mbthompson@gmail.com

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  • Jason M. Tangen Ph.D.,

    1. School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia
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  • Duncan J. McCarthy B.App.Sc.

    1. Forensic Services Branch, Queensland Police Service, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
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  • Supported by a Fulbright Scholarship to Thompson, and an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant to Tangen and McCarthy (see The Forensic Reasoning Project at ForensicReasoning.com).

Abstract

Although fingerprint experts have presented evidence in criminal courts for more than a century, there have been few scientific investigations of the human capacity to discriminate these patterns. A recent latent print matching experiment shows that qualified, court-practicing fingerprint experts are exceedingly accurate (and more conservative) compared with novices, but they do make errors. Here, a rationale for the design of this experiment is provided. We argue that fidelity, generalizability, and control must be balanced to answer important research questions; that the proficiency and competence of fingerprint examiners are best determined when experiments include highly similar print pairs, in a signal detection paradigm, where the ground truth is known; and that inferring from this experiment the statement “The error rate of fingerprint identification is 0.68%” would be unjustified. In closing, the ramifications of these findings for the future psychological study of forensic expertise and the implications for expert testimony and public policy are considered.

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